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Brazil: Jokes About Rape and the Limit of Humor

Brazilian stand-up comedian Rafinha Bastos, considered by the New York Times [pt] to be the celebrity who creates the most impact on Twitter, has raised much controversy by declaring in a show – and right after having his statement reproduced by Rolling Stone magazine – that:

“Toda mulher que eu vejo na rua reclamando que foi estuprada é feia pra caralho.” […] “Tá reclamando do quê? Deveria dar graças a Deus. Isso pra você não foi um crime, e sim uma oportunidade.” […] “Homem que fez isso [estupro] não merece cadeia, merece um abraço.”

“Every woman I see on the streets complaining they have been raped is incredible ugly.” […] “ What are you complaining about? You should thank God. It wasn't a crime for you, it was an opportunity.” […] “ The man who did it [the rape] does not deserve to go to jail, he deserves a hug.”

As rape is widely considered “one of the cruelest forms of violence” [pt], it did not take long for statements denouncing Rafinha Bastos’ comments to emerge. Feminist blogger Bianca Cardoso, from Groselha News blog, explains:

Não é apenas a violência física, como uma porrada ou um chute no rim, é também a violação do corpo, do privado, do íntimo, a submissão e humilhação. Há também graves consequências, físicas e psicológicas que podem resultar desse ato. Desde uma gravidez, passando pela contaminação por doenças sexualmente transmissíveis, até ferimentos graves na vagina e no reto.

It's not only the physical violence, like a punch or a kick in the kidneys, it's also a violation of the body, the private, the intimate, submission and humiliation. There are also severe consequences, physical and psychological, that can result from this act. From an unwanted pregnancy, to sexual disease contamination, to serious injuries to the vagina and rectum.
'Violation'. Image by Flickr user Cidadania Queluz (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

'Violation'. Image by Flickr user Cidadania Queluz (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Morality or censorship?

On Twitter, the hashtag #DebEstupro was widely used in the reactions to the controversy.

The singers and activists Elisa Gargiulo (@elisagargiulo) and Vange Leonel (@vleonel), demanded the comedian's arrest for rape incitement, pressuring prosecutors and lawyers to take action. Gargiulo wrote:

Estupro = crime de poder (pobres, “feias”, lésbicas, sozinhas na rua). Achar estupro útil pra “feias” é incitar crime. Advogado bom dá conta.

Rape = crime of power (the poor, “ugly”, lesbians, those alone in the street). To think that rape is useful for “ugly women” is inciting crime. A good lawyer shall do the job.

There were also defenders of the comedian's comments however; designer Odemilson Louzada (@Odemilsonjr) wrote “To demand ethics from Rafinha is easy”, and the rapper Fernando Rodox (@FernandoRodoxRj), who made his point saying:

#Abaixoarepressao Sou Contra a Qualquer Tipo De Censura, Isso que Estão Fazendo Com @rafinhabastos é Censura!!! #Debestupro

#Abaixoarepressao I'm against any kind of censorship, what has been done to @rafinhabastos is censorship!!! #Debestupro

Facing this, journalist Mayara Melo (@Mayroses) regretted that so many people “follow, retweet and defend” Rafinha Bastos. Teacher Lola Aronovich, from blog Escreva Lola, Escreva, wrote [pt] about comedian's fans and those who laugh at his jokes:

Esses fãs acham que estupro é sexo e não violência, é isso? Acham que alguém pode ser sortuda por ser vítima de um crime terrível? Acham que só mulheres bonitas costumam ser estupradas? Ah, então a verdade é uma só: esses fãs não sabem absolutamente nada sobre estupro! Estupro é só uma abstração pra eles, uma realidade tão distante que eles podem rir à vontade! Se eles conhecessem alguma pessoa que foi estuprada, provavelmente seria difícil rir dessas “verdades”.

These fans think rape is sex and not violence, is that right? They think someone can be lucky to be a victim of a terrible crime? They think only beautiful women get raped? So the truth is only one: these fans know absolutely nothing about rape. Rape is just an abstraction for them, a reality so far away that they can laugh all they want. If they knew someone who has been raped, probably it would be hard to laugh at these “truths”.

The blogger Eduardo Guimarães goes beyond and criticizes the health of Brazilian society when he says [pt]:

Parece bastante razoável, portanto, dizer que a sociedade brasileira – e, sobretudo, nossos jovens – está moralmente doente. Uma geração em que há tantas pessoas frias, cínicas, empedernidas é a que irá governar o Brasil do futuro. Uma geração diferente de todas as que a terão precedido, capaz de rir das desgraças alheias e de pregar atos criminosos como afogar ou estuprar pessoas.

It seems quite reasonable, therefore, to say that the Brazilian society – and above all, our youth – is morally sick. A generation with so many cold, cynical and petrified people is what will govern the Brazil in the future. A different generation of all the ones before, capable of laughing at misfortunes of others and preach criminal acts as drown or rape people.

He also suggests:

Caberia uma campanha publicitária de iniciativa do Estado exaltando valores humanistas e condenando esse tipo de mentalidade.

It would be necessary a Government propaganda glorifying humanistic values and condemning this kind of mentality.
"Rape is hate. Go on a date. Love is the best. Don't molest. Use your charm. Please don't harm." Photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

"Rape is hate. Go on a date. Love is the best. Don't molest. Use your charm. Please don't harm." Photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Limits of the politically incorrect

The discussion ended up turning into one about humor, its limits and a critique of the politically correct [pt], defined by the teacher and blogger Idelber Avelar as “an alleged police-authoritarism from the left in the language use”, with bloggers discussing how far the humor can go, what is offensive and what is, in Bianca Cardoso's words, humor that “follows the thoughts of a conservative society. It is not [a] transgressor.”

About this, Lola Aronovich says:

[…] muitas vezes o humor é transgressor. Mas o que esse pessoal que ataca minorias pra fazer piada precisa entender é que eles não estão transgredindo nada.

[…] many times the humor is a transgressor. But what these people who attack minority to make jokes need to understand is that they are not transgressing anything.

Regarding humor made to offend and diminish women, journalist Amanditas, in her blog, wrote [pt]:

A sociedade está tão cínica que hoje em dia a misoginia e o preconceito são semeados sob a máscara do “senso de humor”. E o pior: esse tipo de humor que exalta a depreciação da mulher é tido como um humor “moderno”, e orgulhosamente ostenta o rótulo do “politicamente incorreto”, sobrevivendo com lucros e audiência cativa na blogosfera brasileira.

Society is so cynical that nowadays misogyny and prejudice go in the guise of “sense of humor.” And the worst is this kind of humor that celebrates the depreciation of women as “modern humor”, and proudly displays the label of “politically incorrect”, surviving off of profits and a captive audience on Brazilian blogs.
I didnt do anything to deserve rape. Photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr (CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)

I didnt do anything to deserve rape. Photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr (CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)

In an interview with Vice magazine, cartoonist Laerte believes [pt] that “humor doesn't have to have limits”:

O que a gente tem que ter também é uma crítica ilimitada. O humor tem que ser solto como qualquer linguagem humana tem que ser solta e livre, o que a gente tem é que ter o direito de exercer o poder da crítica sobre isso permanentemente. Então você dizer que uma piada é racista, ou sexista, e argumentar nessa direção, não é censurá-la, é exercer seu direito de crítica.

What we have to have is a critic that is also unlimited. Humor has to be loose as any other human language has to be loose and free, and we have to have the right to exercise the power of criticism about it all the time. When you say a joke is racist or sexist, you have to argue in that direction and not censor it, and then exercise your right to criticize.

The blogger Renata Correa goes beyond [pt] this and says:

Gostemos ou não, o humor pode falar de tudo. De qualquer coisa. O humor é um reflexo da sociedade, uma lente pela qual olhamos a vida. Uma MANEIRA de olhar o que acontece ao nosso redor. […] não podemos dizer que existe, digamos, um “limite temático” para o humor. O humor deve ser engraçado. Fazer rir. E ponto.

Whether we like it or not, humor can say everything. About anything. The humor is a reflection of a society, the lens which we look life. A WAY to look at what happens around us. […] we can't say that there is a ‘thematic limit’ to the humor. The humor has to be funny. And make one laugh. That's it.

But she warns:

Uma piada que usa um tema machista, homofóbico ou racista não necessariamente é ruim, mas corre o risco extremo de não ser engraçada. Porque é uma piada velha. Já ouvimos isso milhões de vezes. Uma piada é boa quando reverbera, te tira da tua zona de conforto.

A joke that uses a sexist, homophobic or a racist theme is not necessarily bad, but it takes the extreme risk of not being funny. Because it's an old joke. We've heard it a million times before. A joke is good when it reverberates, takes you out of your comfort zone.

The Imprença blog finalizes [pt]:

Lembrando bem das palavras de mamãe:
Só é engraçado quando está todo mundo rindo. Quando um está chorando e os outros rindo não é brincadeira, é humilhação.
Acho que podemos partir daí. Não precisa ser chato, nem politicamente correto. Basta não fazer ninguém sofrer.

Remembering my mother's words:
Its only funny when everybody is laughing. When one is crying and others are laughing, it's not a joke, it's humiliation.
I think we can go from there. We don’t have to be boring, not politically correct. It's just about not making anyone suffer.

In the absence of taking a position about the polemic declarations of Rafinha Bastos, his employers, CQC and TV Bandeirantes (@e_band) were criticized by many on Twitter.

The companies that sponsor the comedian – Pepsi Brasil (@pepsibr), Nokia Brasil (@nokiabrasil) and TV Via Embratel (@viaembratel) – were pressed (by Vange Leonel (@vleonel) and Elisa Gargiulo (@elisagargiulo)) to comment about this case. There were no reactions.

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  • Dalva Guedes

    I am horrified to see a public person, who consider himself as a comedian like Raphinha Bastos writes something so machist and idiot, then if his mother is raped she has to thank for it because she is an old woman who could not do anything better? If what he wrote was a joke I think I definitely do not have sense of humor

  • Dean Fox

    Such jokes should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Censoring them is just silly much better the people reject them by themselves, which given the controversy one thinks they will.

    The controversy is likely what was sought by this comedian to promote his own career; it must be getting harder to be controversial these days but I hope this one back fires on him, killing his career rather than raising it to “the next level”. Let’s hope he doesn’t get loads of TV interviews and press coverage for this…

  • http://omaymen.wordpress.com omaymen

    I’m completly agree with the comments of Dalva Guedes.

    There must be limits with sense of humor. What if that rape happened to one of his relatives ,he will still have that sense of humor??

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